Warrior and Peace Chief: Lawrence Hart (1933—)
The histories of the Southern Cheyennes and the Mennonite Christian denomination both featured adventure, travel, courage, displacement, persecution, and rejuvenation. Perhaps their destinies merged in the life of no single person more than they did Cheyenne principal peace chief and Mennonite pastor Lawrence Hart of Hammon.
Hart was born amidst the depths of the Great Depression as well as the perimeter of the western Oklahoma Dust Bowl. His Cheyenne chief grandfather John B. Hart, with whom he lived during his early years, taught him the tribal language and ways, and early handpicked him to train as a future leader. His mother and father Jennie and Homer Hart were devout Mennonite lay leaders who taught him English and the Christian faith. His Mennonite pastor Arthur Friesen in Hammon championed his advance to both Bethel (Mennonite) College and Mennonite seminary.
Two U.S. Navy jets that providentially streaked low over a remote western Oklahoma field where Lawrence picked cotton as a youth fueled his passion to become the first full-blood American Indian Marine Corps fighter pilot, which he did. He was also promoted to flight instructor. When his grandpa died, Lawrence gave up the warrior life to take up John Hart’s mantle as a peace chief.
On the unforgettable day in 1958 when Lawrence took his vows as peace chief, he rode a horse into the circle of family and friends attending the ceremony, then flew an F-9 Cougar jet fighter plane home, breaking the supersonic sound barrier over the Gulf of Mexico as he did so.
He accepted the call to pastor the Koinonia Mennonite Church in Clinton. For 40 years, he and his wife Betty, whom he met at Bethel College, served their diverse flock. In addition to preaching and other pastoral duties, they founded a youth shelter in Clinton, launched a landmark effort to confront alcoholism among Natives, and fostered 21 children.
Lawrence Hart served his growing legion of people in countless other ways. These included leading the Business Committee of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, which coordinated the increasingly autonomous tribal interaction with the U.S. government regarding services ranging from housing to financial reparations. Also, running with Betty, the Cheyenne Cultural Center near Clinton.
Hart biographer Raylene Hinz-Penner concluded:
“Always he has served as peacemaker, cultivating the traditions of servanthood in the peace chief tradition, reinterpreting Bible stories for Mennonites and Cheyennes to help his diverse flocks understand the tribal Jesus he knows. He has taken on a myriad of roles as peacemaker: chief, preacher, orator, negotiator, testifier, surveyor, protester, cultural historian, carpenter and more.”
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Oklahomans Vol 2 :
Statehood - 2020s
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